The Cleveland Browns have stumbled their way through the first eight games of the regular season.
Now, with the club sitting at 2-6 and looking for answers, the blame game has begun among fans and the media.
An overwhelming percentage of the blame has fallen on first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens, which is not surprising since people screaming “fire the coach” is often the easiest (and laziest) take when things go wrong.
But the truth is that there are many culprits at work here, from an offensive line that is operating three players short to a defense that is being mismanaged by defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.
Even second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield has come into his share of criticism, something that seemed unthinkable prior to the start of the season.
Baker Mayfield has the worst passer rating from a clean pocket in the @nfl per @NextGenStats— cynthia frelund (@cfrelund) November 6, 2019
BUT there's context and situational analysis you need to know and read here: https://t.co/6joPPzho6L#browns #nfl100 @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/iSjHZk2wv7
But while Mayfield has not played up to expectations, there is one area where he should escape blame, according to NFL Network Analytics Expert Cynthia Frelund, who looked at the Next Gen Stats as they relate to Mayfield’s work from a clean pocket.
The stats show that:
- Mayfield’s quarterback rating of 75.1 is the lowest in the league when he is not under pressure
- Mayfield is the only quarterback in the league who has more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (six) when he is not facing pressure
- Mayfield is also the league’s lowest-rated quarterback on second down (66.0) and third down (62.1)
As Frelund points out, those numbers are odd because quarterbacks generally do their best work when they are not worried about getting buried by an opposing pass rusher. Frelund went past just the raw numbers, however, and the results should make Browns fans feel a little less anxious about Mayfield.
Frelund believes that Mayfield’s struggles are temporary for a pair of reasons:
Mayfield has been put in horrible throwing situations. Right now, Baker is tied for most attempts (30) on second and third down when the yards-to-go are 15 or more. He has thrown the most passes (14) when facing 20 or more yards-to-go on these downs. These situations make defensive play-calling easier, because the offensive approach is more obvious (highly likely to pass).
Mayfield’s receivers just haven’t been getting open. The QB’s pass-catching options have had defenders within a 5-foot halo of them along their routes 34 percent more often this season than last, making the difficulty of completion harder.
So ... Baker routinely finds himself in adverse down-and-distance circumstances, throwing to receivers who aren’t open.
Finally, Frelund took a look at the formations the Browns are using when Mayfield throws from a clean pocket and believes that Cleveland is using similar formations and plays on second and third down, which helps make it even easier for the defense to stop Mayfield.
It all sounds pretty reasonable and seems as if it would be an easy thing to fix.
The only question is if the Browns see it the same way and, if so, are prepared to do something about it.